Not, of course, to be confused with my debut novel (which comes out next month), I cranked out the launching pad for my eventual literary career in 1987, when I was a freshman in high school. Banged painstakingly out (I still can’t type with more than three fingers) on the dernier cri electric typewriter for which I begged when I graduated from the eight grade, “M.J. Horne’s” Bermuda Triangle predates my first National Novel Writing Month by nearly 20 years, and thus must be counted as my “first novel.” You know, to the extent that 33 numbered-in-pencil pages can be considered a novel.
My original plan, for scrapping which you can thank me later, was to publish my Masterpiece in its entirety here. Like in a series, ramping up to Kiss Me, Straight‘s release, portrait of the artist as a young man, that sort of thing. Only the artist as a young man spends like three pages (ten percent of the piece, remember) typing out airline timetables and departure gate information, leaves almost everything else to the reader’s imagination (Wait, now who is she talking to?), and is so willfully derivative that it’s embarrassing even to talk about here in the broadest terms, much less to quote in any kind of bulk. Think I’m exaggerating? Our very favorite movie of the day was Romancing the Stone (duh), and on honest-to-goodness Page One, a character receives a mysterious treasure map in the mail and exhorts his sister to get on the very next airplane out of town and fly to his aid.
Mind you, this was the eighties (as descriptions like “She was wearing a white pantsuit with green pumps and belt.” make clear). Our favorite show was Moonlighting; made-for-TV Guest Star Smorgasbord whodunnits were the order of the day; we watched Romancing the Stone every time we could scrape together the three dollars to liberate the tape from the video store — Madcap Mystery was an attractive and accessible milieu. And it’s not like I had no eye for The Original. The main duo of protagonists is an obviously, if not explicitly, lesbian couple, “as different as chalk from cheese,” wherever I got a hold of that phrase. Stacey is blonde and pretty, impatient and organized, with one eye on her watch at all times, and her pal Dolores is a tough-talking, frizzy-haired Accident Waiting to Happen who, in 33 pages, has her fingers slammed in a suitcase, falls twice down the same flight of stairs, falls out of a boat, falls off a bridge, falls out of a fifth-floor window into a swimming pool, is kidnapped, fends off a homicidal gun-wielding maniac with a hair clip, and loses a high-top tennis shoe in a taxi cab. Things are demanded; things are slammed; hotel desk clerks are murdered by the bad guys and disposed of in this manner by the good:
“What should we do with her?” Stacey asked, setting down her end of the desk clerk. Stuart looked around. At the end of the hall he saw a laundry basket full of towels. He picked up his end of the desk clerk and Stacey did the same.
“Follow me,” he suggested. They carried her down the hall and dumped her in the laundry basket. “Good work,” he said. Stacey smiled and they went back to the room.
No muss, no fuss, no time for the police — on to the next exciting scene!
As characters, Stacey and Dolores are still revered in my circle of friends who remember them from Back in the Day. They’re wacky; they’re no-nonsense; they’re smart, affectionate, and they handle their business. They were the Stephanie Plum and Lula of their day and, more fully realized, probably still have potential, provided they update their wardrobes. In fact, it was Stacey and Dolores who, in a long-lost sequel to Bermuda Triangle, first befriended Marzipan Q. Thespian, who would go on to a key supporting role in Kiss Me, Straight.
But it’s not with the staying power of (certain of) its characters, and certainly not with its layered complexity (Dolores is never given a surname) or startling originality (the jewel, when they find it, is even green, for Pete’s sake), that this little story inspires me. It’s more the sight of the smudged, shredded manila envelope in which it’s been traveling around like a treasure map for the last 25 years, signifying, as it does, that once I had faith enough in my craft to clack away at a typewriter for 33 pages and expect great things. Not because it makes me feel nostalgic for the days when I apparently thought everything I wrote was paydirt, or because it makes me feel smug to know better than that klutzy naïf, but rather because now, when I do sit down with characters I love and start typing (the best I can), I know I’m doing right by that kid. And I know he’s cheering me on, expecting great things.